World Voices Musics
Music by Warren Burt
This piece was commissioned by Le Tuan Hung and the Australia-Asia Foundation for the 15th Anniversary of Sonic Gallery. When he asked for the piece, Le wanted a variety of Asian sound sources to appear in the piece. (The purpose of Sonic Gallery is to highlight work that explores crossovers between Asian and Australian musical sources.) He specifically asked for some samples from the UVI World Suite, which is a sample set with a very wide assortment of sampled instruments and phrases from all over the world. Around this time, I also noticed that there were a number of iPad apps which featured sounds of some, or many, instruments from different countries as well. What finally got me going on the piece was noticing a little “drum machine” app from UVI called Beathawk, which could play a fairly large subset of the phrases from the UVI World Suite library. Beathawk was also an app in what is called the AUv3 format, which means that you can have more than one of them operating at a time. For this piece, I made 2 tracks where in
each I had three instances of Beathawk, each with 16 different sampled phrases in it. This meant that I could have 48 different phrases available at a time. I selected these randomly using a sequencer/control program called Quantum. Doing this twice, with a different collection of samples for each track, gave me two tracks of collaged “world-music” samples – a total of 96 different samples in all. To this I added sounds from instrument-specific apps, such as Gender (sampled gamelan phrases), iShala (sampled timbura, swarmandal, and tabla phrases), Taqs.im Synthesizer (sampled Arabic drumming phrases) and Streemur, which is an app which will look for random short-wave broadcasts which are also carried over the internet. With that, I recorded speech in about 20 different languages – I think Hungarian was the main language I picked up that day, but there were a wide variety of languages represented. English appears only once, I think, and although for all the other language fragments, I used random processes to determine where they appeared in the piece, I chose to place that one at the end. The careful listener will quickly be able to tell why. The raw tracks for the piece were made entirely on my iPad pro, and were then transferred to my computer for final mixing. (I could have done the mixing on the iPad as well, but I felt much more comfortable with my computer-based mixing program. Why be fetish-isticly pure with your technology if your subject matter is from such a wide variety of sources?)
Knowing that using a wide variety of samples from many world cultures, and short-wave broadcast fragments of many different languages could be seen to be at least a “nod” in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s direction, I decided to amplify the reference even more by having the Beathawk tracks occasionally ring-modulated in the Elastic FX app. (In Stockhausen’s “Telemusik” he frequently has one sample ring-modulating another, or has a sample ring-modulated by an oscillator. This has the effect of producing distortions and transpositions of the samples, widening the timbral
palette even further.) The end result, though, doesn’t sound much like Stockhausen’s music – this piece has a thick texture that Stockhausen usually avoids. And I think I’m much more aware of the humorous side of the semiotics of the different sounds I’m using – that is, I don’t think I’m here doing a hymn of praise to technologically mediated multi-cultural activity (as Stockhausen does in “Telemusik”), but rather, having fun with the cultural combinations that result from my thick mix. So for example, a Chinese er-hu tune backed up by a Cuban piano riff mixed with a couple of Hungarian sports broadcasters seems not so much “Global-Village-y” as either just plain funny, or, if you happen to live in, for example, Melbourne (and especially being a frequent user of the public transport system here), normal. And the pace of change here is pretty relentless -if we are, for example, living in a metaphor of a number of world-radio stations being accessed at once, then the tuning dials are moving awfully fast, in a continuous manner. This is now not so much amazing as it is simply the world we live in. Listening to the piece now, several weeks after completing it, I’m actually impressed by the transparency of the mix. What had seemed really intense and dense to me when I was composing it, now sounds quite genial and relaxed. I hope you enjoy listening to my algorithmically assembled juxtapositions of fragments from around the world as much as I did in making them.
Music and texts © by Warren Burt 2019
An Australia Asia Foundation’s commission for the 15th Anniversary of Sonic Gallery (2004-2019)